More often than not I get a blank stare in response to the question, “Do you have Google Webmaster Tools set up?” It seems that ever since Google integrated natural search data into Google Analytics, Webmaster tools have all but been forgotten about. I wrote I have Google Analytics, Why do I need Webmaster Tools a few months ago and based on the positive feedback and requests for more information a part two seemed in order.
In case you’re not familiar with Webmaster Tools, both Google and Bing have a FREE dashboard that provides website owners information about how the search engines “see” a website behind the scenes. The reports are full of information that can help you troubleshoot issues that could adversely affect SEO, Customer Experience, and the success of your online marketing efforts.
Although there is some overlap in the data collected between Google Analytics (or other Analytics platforms), the information tracked in Webmaster tools are a great companion to the analytic tools you use to monitor the health of your site from a marketing perspective. Having both the Analytics solution and Webmaster tools in your toolkit provides a more complete view of your website and how you can optimize it from all angles.
The highlighted menu options are the features that I use the most often when analyzing a website. I’ll provide a few key bullet points about each one. In today’s post we’ll cover:
- Submitting an XML Sitemap
- Google Webmaster Search Queries
- Links to Your Site
- Content Keywords
Submit an XML Sitemap
To start with, it’s important to create an XML site map and submit it through both Google and Bing Webmaster tools.
Sitemaps help to make sure that the search engines can crawl all of the pages of your website. It’s basically a list of the pages you want them to know about including how frequently pages are updated. It’s written specifically for the search engines and will never be seen by your visitors.
If you don’t know how to create one, don’t worry, there are a lot of resources that you can use to generate one. A tool like XML-Sitemaps works well for smaller sites (under 500 pages) and they have options for larger sites as well.
You can also use plugins such as Google XML Sitemaps if you have a WordPress website. It’s a good idea to test the sitemap before submitting it. Enter the portion of the url that comes after http://yourdomain.com/ and click on test (not submit).
After you view the results and know that it was successfully read by Google, go ahead and submit it. Your site will be indexed without submitting your sitemap to the search engines, but the sitemap makes it easier for them. My point of view is that any step I can take to make it easier for the search engines to find a site is a good thing to do.
Google Webmaster Search Queries
Search Queries is where I spend the most amount of time. This is the data that has been integrated into Google Analytics, however there is one key difference in the report interface related to filtering. Google Analytics automatically displays ALL search types (Web, Image, Mobile, and Video).
Webmaster tools defaults to “Web” search results, which includes what most of us think of when we picture a search results page with text links. What this means is that if you try and compare the impression data from the default views between the two tools they won’t come close to matching. But don’t worry, you can adjust the filter and the numbers do reconcile.
The data you get in search queries help you to understand how people are getting to your website. You can analyze the following data for your natural search traffic.
Tip: Enable the search engine optimization reports in Google Analytics by connecting it with your Webmaster Tools. This gives you the ability to analyze natural search traffic using all of the robust Analytics features.
- Top Searches
- Top Pages
- Date Range
- Change Rate
- Search Type (Default is Web)*
- Impressions = your site shown in search results
- Average position = average top position for the query
- Clicks = user selected the result
- Click through rate = # of clicks/# of impressions
Links to Your Site
It’s important to keep an eye on who’s linking to you and how many incoming links you have. Google does value quality incoming links as a part determining whether or not a site can be trusted.
- Total Links
- Who Links (and how many times they’ve linked to you)
- Most Linked Content (what pages are they linking to)
- How your data is linked (anchor/link text)
Content Keywords are important for a couple of reasons.
First, it’s a list the keywords and their variants that Google associates with your website. The significance of each keyword reflects on how often it’s found on your site’s pages.
For example, the keyword might be “marketing” and the variants, “market,” and “market’s” are also found on your site. This is a way to see if your content really reflects your keywords.
One important thing to note is that ALL of the page elements are included, not just the body copy. Pay attention to page titles, meta descriptions, and tags in addition to the main content.
The second reason it’s important is for troubleshooting. If you suddenly start seeing unexpected words like “Viagra” or “Payday” it could be a sign that you’ve been hacked.
Phew! We covered a lot of ground. Be sure to come back on Monday to learn about:
- Index Status
- Crawl Errors
- HTML Improvements
- Author Stats
As a bonus, there will be a quick overview of a couple of features that are unique to Bing. Spoiler alert, a video and Slideshare presentations will also be available on Monday.
What was the most useful or interesting thing you learned about Google WebMaster Tools?